i know, it should have been The Ramones. They seem to be the natural choice for so many others at any rate. But for me, it was The Clash. Always has been and most likely always will be. If you came up to me (after living for more than thirty and some odd years in a bomb shelter or cave of some sort i suppose) and asked, “what is punk?” i would most likely first shake my head slowly in disbelief. Then i would hand you a copy of “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” and tell you to start there.
Mind you, The Clash wasn’t my first experience with this thing called “punk rock”. And they weren’t my second either. In fact, had a high school friend not accidentally given me a mixed tape containing both the Sex Pistols and Generation X, instead of whatever heavy metal bands i had actually requested, i might have never “found” The Clash at all. Needless to say, i’m glad my friend screwed up.
The Sex Pistols were offensive, brash and loud, and unlike any heavy metal band i had previously heard in that they quite frankly didn’t give a damn. It came through with every lyric and every poorly played note. Honestly, i loved their bravado far more than their music, and it was only the unsettling twinge coming from deep in my gut – telling me that i might have had just stumbled upon what i would someday end up calling “tribe” – that kept me intrigued. That being said, it did end up taking me years to truly enjoy The Pistols, and other than the fact that they pretty much gave a “face” to punk, i still don’t have much use for them.
Side B of my mix tape had the somewhat more talented Generation X, fronted by a then unknown Billy Idol. While still punk in brashness and snotty attitude, these kids sounded much more put-together musically. Almost like they were trying hard to sound bad. You could also “hear” that they very much dressed the “Rock Star” part because, well, they very much wanted to be Rock Stars. Just in their own way. And of the four, at least one was successful for a spell. Another was just almost with his little project called Sigue Sigue Sputnik (if you’ve never heard of them, skip it – it’s way too late to check them out now since everything they originated has been re-originated by others at later dates, just more successfully). But i digress. In fact, if digression was an invoice-able service, i would be rather wealthy at this point of my blogging career. But again, i find myself digressing even in my digression. So, moving on. All said, Generation X was good – real good. But much like the Pistols, for me they were missing the mark. What the mark i was hoping they would hit was exactly, i had no idea, but miss it they did. As such, the search for “the band” that could really trip my newly found punk rock trigger continued.
Whoever first told me about the Clash, i’m not sure. No, wait, actually i am. It was well before i even received the eye-opening, ear-popping tape noted above. i first heard of them from both my classmates and advertisers when they opened for The Who on their infamous farewell tour. The first one. At the time i was listening to – well, i’m not sure as to what i actually was listening to at the time. Haven’t the faintest idea now. But i did know that The Clash was no band for me – for the obvious reason that they couldn’t be any sort of good if they didn’t play the type of music (and i really do wish i could figure out what that was now…) that i was involved with at the time. The second time i heard of them, i can’t remember who told me or why. But i do remember that the first disc (of the vinyl variety) i bought to test them out was “Combat Rock“. i won’t tell you i had any sort of “instant audio orgasm” upon first hearing it, because i didn’t. It was OK. Strong A side, but a weird B. Gladly, my impression of the first side won out, because my next purchase was to put the first and last nail in my Clash coffin. That’s right, next up i bought “Sandinista!“. No, no, no, my next purchase was “London Calling” of course. And like everyone else on the planet who has ever heard it (with open ears at any rate), my Clash fandom was solidified. So much so, that i eventually did go out and buy even “Sandinista!“, and after many listens grew to finally understand, and later enjoy, its musical depths as well.
And i believe that’s why i love the Clash so much – it’s because they were Solid. Good. Difficult. In short, i believe they respected their craft, their audience – and music in general – enough as to not make it easy to “get” the first time ’round. In addition, they refused to cut corners in their music or lyrics, and they used both to raise awareness instead of just press. They sang about things that mattered, things that needed changing. Just the other day i was explaining to my youngest what it meant when Joe sang “let me tell you ’bout your blood, bamboo kid – it ain’t Coca Cola, it’s rice…”. Genius in effectively comparing two totally different cultures that once, collided just long enough to start an entirely “new breed” to the human race. A breed that is shunned by both sides of its ancestry. A breed that found a champion in a little punk band from London, U.K. known as The Clash.
As i mentioned before, i know that it should have been the Ramones, but their 2 minute tracks of blister and volume simply serve to bore and annoy me after not too long. With The Clash, i can listen again and again. i know it should have been The Ramones in that without them, you wouldn’t even have The Clash. But in all honesty, without The Clash, we might not have punk rock music at all.
For while the Ramones may have given punk the sound and the fury – and The Pistols gave it the look and the attitude – it took The Clash to provide it with it’s intelligence and it’s Soul, and it has survived thirty and some odd years as a result.
And that is why i like The Clash. Now, why do you?